When my son went to college, I learned that if kids don’t see actual cash, it doesn’t count. Son O’Mine can stretch a buck longer than a week if it’s cash in his pocket, but if it isn’t tangible paper or coins, it doesn’t seem to exist in his world.
Example: We paid for the meal plan at his school, and he also had bucks on the "flex card" which he could use in the school bookstore, the cafe and vending machines on campus. Keep in mind, each time he used the card it told him how many meals and/or dollars he still had available.
A week before the end of the freshman year, we get a call. It was Saturday, about a half hour after the bank had closed.
Son: Hey Mom...
Mom: Hi! What's up?
Son: Ummm... do you think you could send some money?
Mom: Sure, kiddo - how much?
Son: Whatever - say $100?
Mom: No problem, I'll hit the bank on Monday morning.
Mom: What's wrong?
**Mom-heart begins to race
Son: Well, I have no meals left on my meal plan.
Mom: What about your card? Can't you grab a sandwich at the cafe?
Son: There’s no money on my card.
**It is at this time that Mom is on the verge of hyperventilating. My son is hours away and STARVING TO DEATH!!!
Mom: Don't you have any Ramen left? (Every kid goes to college with their body weight in Ramen Noodles – I’m pretty sure that’s a federal law - $2 for a truckload at Costco)
Son: Ate that all last week.
**OK, so my panic shifts - there's like a zillion grams of sodium in each serving of Ramen – by now, he is not only starving, but most likely on the verge of a STROKE!
Now that he’s sent me into a complete state of panic, he does the passive/aggressive thing…
Son: It’s ok, Mom… Monday’s not so far away… Thanks anyway…
And he hangs up.
I spend the next hour searching desperately online for some place that would let me order and pay for food and deliver it NOW.
That’s when the voice starts.
You know the one, it sounds just like that cute little blonde PTA president who is also the Room Mom. She scrapbooks, grows all her own vegetables, makes her own fruit juice and bakes homemade cupcakes for every birthday in the class. Her children are perfect and always color-coordinated. Her house is spotless, her car is clean and has those cute little organizers in it. She never forgets the green bags at the grocery store.
She is the UBER MOM (we hate her).
She’s here to tell you what a HORRIBLE mother you are. Your child is miles away from home in a DANGEROUS city, STARVING to death because you are a HORRIBLE MOTHER!!
On the verge of guilt-riddled hysteria, I called Son – no answer.
Uber Mom: He’s probably passed out from weakness.
I sent a text – no answer.
Uber Mom: Those ginormous Baltimore Rats are gnawing on his body – probably nothing but bones by now…
More calls – still no answer.
Ut oh…here it comes - Mom Frenzy (Refer to Lesson #1).
GET IN THE CAR, WE'RE GOING TO BALTIMORE!!!!
Just as I’m dragging Sparky to the car and calling for the 878th time, the kid finally answers the phone.
Son: Hey Mom, what’s up?
Mom: Don’t worry, honey we’re on our way!!
Son: What? Why?
Mom: You didn’t answer your phone – you must be so hungry. Hang on, we’re coming to feed you!
Son: Mom, relax! I guess I didn’t hear my phone. The girls upstairs invited me to a Pasta Party. They gave me tons of leftovers too, so I’m good for days.
Mom exhales and unpacks the car…
Did this little adventure make him more aware of money he couldn’t actually see?
Oh, he kept track of the balance going forward, but in his senior year when he and his friends decided to move to a new apartment (while he was in school, we paid the rent) he informed us that the new place was “only another $125 a month.”
And what did I learn?
Well, I learned that the odds of my kid starving to death while away from home are slim to none. And now that he’s back home, I’ve learned that he’s pretty smart when it comes to money. If I give him $10 to go to the store for milk, I never see any change. But if I’m running late and don’t want to stop at the ATM, he doesn’t have any cash.
And yet… when he wants to go out with his friends, he’s got money.
He’s one smart cookie, Son O’Mine. He should be – we paid enough for it.